Saco River fishing varies a lot from the river’s start in New Hampshire’s White Mountains to its mouth at Maine’s Saco Bay. The river has good fishing throughout and flows through beautiful country.

I’ve experienced some of the trout fishing near the Saco River’s upper end and some of the striper fishing along the Maine Coast where it ends. However, there’s plenty more to explore.

With good fishing along its entire length, the Saco River is a good New England stream to consider for your next trip.

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Where Is the Saco River?

The Saco River begins at Crawford Notch in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. From there it flows south and east towards North Conway, where some of its best trout fishing lies.

Saco river fly fishing

The Saco River crosses the border into the Maine town of Fryeburg and continues until it empties into Saco Bay. In Maine it’s mostly a warmwater fishery.

Saco River Fishing: Why Go?

The upper Saco River, especially around North Conway, is a great trout fishery. Though mostly hatchery supplemented, it holds some wild fish and even some big brown trout. The dry fly fishing can be stellar.

The smallmouth bass fishing on some of Maine’s stretches of the Saco is underutilized, and the saltwater fishery at the river’s mouth is very good.

Don’t miss our complete guide to fly fishing around New Hampshire.

Types of Fishing in the Saco River

Though a small portion of the river is designated fly fishing only, spin fishing and fly fishing methods can be used to good effect along most of its length.

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing the Saco River is good for trout, bass and stripers. It simply depends on which section you’re fishing.

A 5 wt is all that’s needed in the upper reaches, where the trout are. An 8 wt would be applicable for both smallmouth bass and stripers in the lower river. In some cases, a 10 wt may be warranted when very large striped bass are present.

Spin Fishing

Spin fishing is also a good way to catch Saco River fish. Fishing bait and lures, where not restricted, can be wildly effective for trout.

difference between fly fishing vs spin fishing

Casting jigs and plugs is also an important method to consider for striped bass at the river mouth and bay.

Saco River Fish Species

Though not as diverse as some rivers, the Saco has a few different species you can expect to catch in certain stretches.

Brown Trout

Brown trout, some wild and most stocked, live in the clear, cold upper river. They’re surface active throughout late spring, summer, and fall.

taking a big brown trout in the fly

Streamer fishing during the runoff can produce some trophy size browns.

Brook Trout

Native brook trout aren’t surviving as well in the Saco River as in some other Northeast rivers, in large part due to heavy stocking of non-native trout. Wild brookies are present in many tributaries and in parts of the main stem itself.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout, mostly stocked fish, can be caught in the upper stretches of the river.

Smallmouth Bass

From around the Maine border down to the tidal waters, smallmouth bass are present. Saco River smallmouth bass fishing isn’t very well known, but can be very good.

Smallmouth Bass Mouth Closeup Vertical

It’s a good way to avoid the crowds.

Striped Bass

In the tidal waters of the Saco River and Saco Bay, striped bass swim from late spring through early fall. It’s an excellent place to fly fish, cast plugs, or even fish live mackerel for these wonderful game fish.

Best Spots for Fishing the Saco River

Along its length, the Saco can basically be split into three different fisheries: trout, smallmouth, and striped bass. This list of some of the best Saco River fishing spots covers the most important places to know for each.

fly fishing Saco river

North Conway

Trout fishing on the Saco River is good above and immediately below the town of North Conway. This is where the river remains cold enough year round to hold trout. Hatches are excellent in the summer, and streamer fishing is good through the winter.

Skelton Dam

One of the best stretches of river for smallmouth bass is from below Skelton Dam to the town of Saco, Maine. Wading is possible in some portions, but a small watercraft like a kayak would open up more possibilities. Rotary Park provides access.

Saco Bay

Saco Bay is an excellent spot for striped bass fishing. Surf casting, fly fishing, and bait fishing are all productive options. A small boat can allow an angler to take advantage of rocky points and flats not reachable on foot, and hiring a guide is a good idea here.

Best Flies for Fishing the Saco River

This list of flies covers a small but important portion of what’s needed on the Saco River.

Pheasant Tail Nymph

It’s hard to say the Pheasant Tail isn’t important on a trout stream, and the Saco River is no exception.

If a mayfly hatch is on but the rise activity is scarce, tie on a Pheasant Tail Nymph.

CDC Caddis

The CDC Caddis is one of the most important dry flies in my box. Anywhere trout rise to insects, it’s a useful pattern.

Sizes 18-12 can all be productive, both searching and during a hatch.

Woolly Bugger

Woolly Buggers will work not only for Saco River trout but for smallmouth bass as well. I recommend carrying a variety of sizes and colors.

Clouser Minnow

The Clouser Minnow is useful both in the smallmouth areas and in the mouth and bay for striped bass.

Chartreuse with white and tan with brown are good color combinations to try in sizes 6, 4, and 2.

 

Half Pint

Domenick Swentosky’s Half Pint and its big brother, the Full Pint, are good streamers to fish for big brown trout. These flies are effective in the upper river, especially during the spring runoff or fall high water periods.

Saco River Fishing Season

The Saco River fishing season is open from January 1 to October 15 in the upper river, and the best times to fish are between March and the closing day in October.

The Saco River doesn’t fish very well in the dead of winter, but when it begins to warm a little and it rises with spring runoff, it’s time to stream fish for big browns.

In late spring and summer, the hatches are on and it’s dry fly time. It’s also a good time for both smallmouth and striped bass. Smallmouth get aggressive in May and June, and striped bass sight fishing is excellent through August.

In September and October, the striped bass begin to migrate out and the smallmouth fishing will slow as the water temperature falls. But, the only thing really stopping excellent trout fishing is the October season’s closure.

Saco River Fishing Report

Though it’s been a while since I last went fishing near the Saco River, I had excellent wild brook trout fishing not far away in the White Mountains. I’m currently planning a trip to fish the Saco at the end of April, and I expect good streamer fishing for big browns at that time.

Saco river fishing spots

The Orvis website provides Saco River fishing reports as well as others covering the surrounding areas.

Saco River Fishing Guides

There are a number of guides that can help you shorten your learning curve when fishing the Saco River.

Hillcountry Guides

Nate Hill of Hillcountry Guides provides float trips on the Saco near North Conway. He’s well known for his knowledge of the river’s large brown trout and early season fishing.

Saco Bay Stripers

Captain Cal Robinson of Saco Bay Stripers caters to both light tackle and fly anglers wishing to catch striped bass or bluefish around Saco Bay. Capt. Cal can also provide a fun day on the water for someone looking to get their family out and do a little fishing too, with lobster pot pulling as an added option.

The Swift River Ghillie

Guide Randy Oullette offers wade, float, and hike-in fishing trips on waters throughout New Hampshire’s White Mountains. This includes the Saco River, Swift River, and other locations of interest to fly fishers. This makes Randy a good guide to book if you’re interested in branching out to some lesser known waters.

Conclusion

Though not as famed as many other Northeast trout streams, the Saco River flows through some beautiful and sometimes wild country, and it holds some great fishing.

Saco River fishing isn’t limited to trout. Its warmwater smallmouth fishery is underutilized and productive. The striper fishery, though more popular, is also fantastic.

Honestly, noteworthy rivers abound in New England, and it’s easy for one like the Saco to slip between the cracks and not get so much attention. Sometimes it’s at a river like this where you have the best fishing day of your life!